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Jeff Eisenberg

WVU forward: Kentucky win was 'national championship game'

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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West Virginia doesn't even know whether its Final Four opponent will be Duke or Baylor yet, but the Mountaineers have already managed to provide some juicy bulletin board material.

Apparently caught up in the emotion of Saturday's admittedly impressive Elite Eight victory over top-seeded Kentucky, forward Wellington Smith was quick to label West Virginia as favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis.

"There was always Kentucky looming," he said. "Now that we've played Kentucky, that basically was the national championship game. We have a chance at this, we could win going away."

Although Bob Huggins' eyes probably bulged out of his sockets when he read that quote, there is some merit to Smith's bravado. Now that the three pre-tournament favorites have been eliminated along with every No. 1 and 2 seed besides West Virginia and Duke, why shouldn't the Mountaineers come to Indianapolis with some confidence?

In fact, a West Virginia team whose only obvious weakness against Washington and Kentucky this week was its shoddy ball handling could be even stronger by tip-off next Saturday. Starting point guard Truck Bryant, expected to miss the remainder of the NCAA tournament after breaking a bone in his right foot last week, now says there's a 90 percent chance he'll be able to play in the Final Four.

"A shoe is being made to take all the pressure off the area," he told reporters after Saturday night's game. "I can be effective. I'll be fine. It will be like nothing happened.''

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